Clover, Carol J. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. S.l: British Film Institute, 1993.
Introduction: Carrie and the Boys
Clover opens her book with a brief introduction to important theorists of the horror genre, such as Laura Mulvey's account of the male gaze and her account of its sadist voyeurism, “one-sex system" of gender and how feminist critics regard the genre as blatant sadistic misogyny. Thomas Laqueur contends that ancient Greek cultures had a “one-sex system" notion of gender. This “one-sex system” posits that males and females are largely the same and that the difference between the two lies in the fact that the male genitalia are on the outside while the female genitalia are on the inside. It was thought that we had exactly the same organs but in different places. Clover marks that, “The point here is not that there is no notion of sexual difference, but that the difference was conceived as less a set of absolute opposites than as a system of isomorphic analogues, the superior male set working as a visible map to the invisible and inferior female set” (14). Though this notion was dispelled by Freud, its impact is long standing on our psyche. Penis envy, phallic women and slew of fantasies all our rooted in the “one-sex system” of gender and its longstanding impact. This notion is crucial to Clover’s book and is frequently referred to.
Upon first encountering films such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and Halloween Clover was unprepared for the complexity and the many theoretical questions that these films raised which led her down the rabbit hole of her research. The author admits that she did not expect the book to delve so deeply into the etiology of sadomasochism and issues of male homosexuality but concludes by saying that her research of the horror genre has changed how she perceives film.
Chapter one: Her Body, Himself.
Clover commences with a meticulous exploration of the common practices in the slasher film. Films such as the Halloween series, Hell Night, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 and 2, Slumber Party Massacre and The Friday the Thirteenth series are all broken down categorically and their prevalent qualities are highlighted in each section (terrible places, weapons, victims, the final girl and shock). Clover then proceeds with an analysis of the representations of the body within these films and the way in which they are gendered. She opens this section by pointing out that the gender roles within these films are by no means clear cut and to overlook the plurality of gender within the slasher film is to largely miss the point. Clover reflects on how these films are largely indebted to myth and the final girl is classically a hero rather than a heroine. She also reveals that a prominent element of the slasher film is the destabilization of the audience’s identification with male characters. The male characters are largely victims to the killer who is predominantly seen as gender confused and feminine. The final girl must empower herself or "manning" herself by unarming and emasculating the gender confused monster. Clover argues that the final girl is a male surrogate and states that men identify with the final girl because of the fact that at the end of the film she asserts the male gaze by looking for the monster and by defeating the monster and becoming a masculine "hero." The feminist filmmaker or films may subvert the orthodox through this loosening of gender roles.
Chapter two: Opening Up
Clover reflects on paranormal films that deal with possession, films such as Witchboard, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Prince of Darkness, Christine and Carrie. The author states that these films are an extension of a tradition that dates back to the bible. The possession or exorcism story also assimilates a psychoanalytic model in varying degrees. These films commonly offer two different methods of explanation for the possession that is taking place in the film and Clover classifies them as "White Science and Black Magic". The White Science is the rational scientific explanation for the anomaly that is attempted at by doctors and psychiatrists that often falls short. The Black Magic representative offers the irrational explanation such as magic, voodoo or Satanism once the 'White Science' fails. These films are largely centered around strong female characters who are possessed but Clover states that it's not about them at all. The possession films are actually about the "opening up" of the secondary male characters. By opening up Clover means that the character must let in the irrational and be more open in terms of gender and sexuality. The female story is labelled as irrational and it is the female that first grasps the irrationality of the situation and moves away from 'White Science'. The male within the story is required to open up not only to the irrational but femininity and even at times homosexual tendencies.
"What interests me in possession films is not so much the end point of the underlying fantasy (which I assume to vary from film to film and from viewer to viewer) but the fact that they consistently repudiate a kind of masculinity that mainstream commentary imagines to be cultural ideal, and that in so doing in ways that critical theory does not fully accommodate." (p.113)
Chapter Three: Getting Even
Clover takes up I Spit on Your Grave (1977) as a difficult film that encapsulates all of the central themes of, what she dubs, the rape revenge genre. Clover reflects on, Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Ms.45 and Mother's Day, to demonstrate the blatant dichotomy between the country and the city which frequently translates to an emphasis on the difference between the rich and the poor. The astounding duality of these films she dubs "urbanoid" and points out the heavy commonalities between these films and settler westerns. Replacing the more civilized cowboys that must defeat the brutality of the Indian is the urbanite that must defeat the savagery of the poor country folk.
Though highly critiqued as sadistic trash Clover states, "I Spit on Your Grave's exploitation and appropriation of feminism" (165) is obvious when one considers the meaning of the rapes within the film and the fact that the rape is a stand in for economic and social dominance. Though wronged by the male figure the female must empower herself to take revenge on her assailants. The assailants themselves during the act of rape act as if they are in a sporting event and the portrayal of the rape itself seems to be a stand in for the group male ritual. When confronted by the revenging victim they shift responsibility to their counterparts. Much like the slasher genre the rape revenge genre draws the male spectator to identify with females in fear and pain. Clover goes into great detail in this chapter to once again describe specific examples of movies and discusses the variants of this genre.
Chapter Four: The Eye of Horror
Clover focuses this chapter on the use of eyes within the horror genre. She addresses the question, why do we like to watch horror films? And attempts to answer this question from the perspective of film theory. Within the first part she takes up Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) and gives an in depth description of how this film champions the different kinds of gaze that can be found in horror. She identifies the "assaultive gaze" as a gaze which is associated with the camera and is predominantly male. This gaze is very seldom fulfilled within the film and is often defeated. The "reactive gaze" is similarly associated with cinema within the film and is often represented as the vision of the victim and how their eyes are often brutalized. Clover states that this gaze, "underlines the interest of horror in hurtable vision, vision on the defence" (205). This gaze is associated with the female gender.
Clover then draws from academics such as Noel Carroll, Metz, Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Tania Modleski and Lacan amongst others to come to the conclusion that the spectator is not only sadistic in nature but largely oriented toward "feminist masochism" (224). This fact has been largely overlooked when it comes to horror cinema and Clover makes the point that it is apparent when one reflects on the spectator’s relationship with the horror movies.